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News

Farm health helpline & service now available statewide

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Farming is a challenging and sometimes dangerous business. Weather, machinery, logistics and livestock can cause difficulties within a day’s work.

Yet these can pale next to the concerns and stress that a farmer carries inside. Farmers are among the most likely to die by suicide, compared with other occupations, according to a 2022 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study also found that suicide rates overall had grown by 40% in less than two decades.

A new support system is available to help the Illinois farming community. It’s as close as your phone. A helpline (1-833-FARM-SOS) will connect farmers to health professionals and services as part of a new statewide program.

Hotline graphicThe Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI) is a joint program of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. SIU’s Center for Rural Health and Social Services Development has created a statewide network of resources to address the mental health needs of the farming and agricultural workforce.

In addition to the 24-hour helpline, farmers can now access free webinars, blogs and trainings on psychological signs of stress at the website siumed.org/farm.

“We’ve designed the program to give ongoing outreach, education and training to our rural partners,” said Karen Stallman, FFRI agricultural resource specialist. “We want to improve the health and safety of farm families. It’s another toolkit they can use to keep well and productive. And we continue to expand our services.”

SIU Medicine conducted a needs assessment in 2020 that found 2 out of 3 Illinois farmers considered farm-related stress and mental health to be significant problems. In addition to the regular stresses of farm management, the pandemic has created labor and supply chain disruptions.

In 2021, the Illinois Department of Agriculture received a $500,000 USDA grant that allowed expansion of the FFRI’s pilot program. Part of that funding allowed the FFRI to go statewide. The remaining portion went to the University of Illinois Extension for farm mental health programming. SIU School of Medicine and University of Illinois Extension partner on many efforts. “The state brought federal funding to help a segment of the rural population,” said Stallman, “and our medical community was there, ready to step up.”

“SIU School of Medicine has a mission of social accountability and bringing better health to central and southern Illinois,” said Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, dean and provost of SIU School of Medicine. “The Farm Family Resource Initiative is a great fit for us and our rural partners – we’re putting the resources where they are needed most, right in the farmers’ hands.”

Mental health professionals from Memorial Behavioral Health in Springfield staff the helpline. The counselors have both medical expertise and knowledge of the factors that affect farming. The phone number is 1-833-327-6767 (1-833-FARM-SOS). A text option is available at the same number. Those who prefer to email can reach call center staff at FarmFamilyResourceHelpline@mhsil.com. There are now counseling services available to those seeking additional assistance. The website siumed.org/farm has new content and resources added regularly.

Please share this information with farmers and their loved ones who may benefit from it. They have friends here and across Illinois who want them to live well and prosper.

Established in 1970, SIU School of Medicine is based in Springfield and Carbondale and focused on the health care needs of downstate Illinois. It educates physicians to practice in Illinois communities and has graduated nearly 3,100 physicians since the first class in 1975.

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